Socheata Vong–Pursuing academic excellence @The University of Cambodia’s Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations


August 5, 2016

Socheata VongPursuing academic excellence @The University of Cambodia’s Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations

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Socheata Vong is a development professional at an international development organization in Phnom Penh. Born in 1982 in Banteay Meanchey province , she studied at Samdech Euv High School and earned her Bachelor’s degrees in International Relations from the University of Cambodia and in Management from the National University of Management. Her work focuses on providing technical support on elections and political processes, civic participation and social media.

Currently, she is completing her Masters degree in International Relations at Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations under the academic supervision of Professor of International Relations and Dean Din Merican.

Socheata was a Board Member of the Cambodian Economic Association (CEA) from 2009 to 2013. She is a manager of a private Cambodian Professional group (CAMPRO), an informal network joined by more than 400 Cambodian professionals working in various institutions. She is also a Managing Director of CamproPost, a website that publishes articles, essays, discussions, opinions, and documents that are related to Cambodia. I interviewed Socheata to get her views as a Cambodian citizen on the country’s civic participation past, present and future.–The Editor, CamproPost

Q.  What was it like growing up in Cambodia? What were some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to be where you are today? 

Socheata Vong (SV):  I grew up in a small village in Banteay Meanchey, where rockets were being shot everyday in my village and near my primary school while Cambodia was still in the civil war in the late 1980s. The rockets were launched by the Khmer Rouge guerrillas from the forests and villages they occupied. All the students and myself were hiding in big holes to cover ourselves from the damages of the rockets at school and at home. The rockets were very massive, the sound was too rumbling.

I am still traumatized by that. Even now when I hear any explosions, even small balloon explosion, I don’t feel okay at all. The Khmer Rouge soldiers defected to the government in the late 1990s, abandoning Pol Pot and his cause. I was fortunate to be the only child in my family who finished high school, while struggling to earn a daily income by selling snacks in my class and in my home village. Not many students from my hometown could afford to study and live in Phnom Penh at that time. There were only a few, as I recalled.

I completed my high school in 1999, and in the same year I was awarded  National Best Student in Khmer Literature, an event that I always remember. While all the graduating high school students had to pass the entrance exams to get to the university, the Khmer Literature award allowed me to choose a university without going through the entrance exams. Without that award, I would not have had a chance to come to Phnom Penh to study because of two main reasons: 1) Each public university accepted a very limited number of students who passed the entrance exams. Not many students passed. Corruption in the entrance exams was rampant at that time. 2) My family could not afford to send me to Phnom Penh and pay for a private school. That award has completely changed my life. I became a great lover of Khmer literature and novel.

Q.  Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?

SV.  My life was greatly influenced by my father who highly valued education although he didn’t have high education. He taught me at home every day during my primary education. He was the one who insisted to send me to Phnom Penh to pursue my higher education. I remembered sending my handwritten letters to my father in my hometown to tell him about my study progress and living conditions in Phnom Penh.  He advised me to give a hand to others. He passed away in my hometown while I was in my first-month of employment in early 2003.

Q.  What three philosophers past or present have shaped your views on democracy and have shaped your life?

SV. Buddha is my greatest philosopher. His philosophy of peace, altruism and compassion have shaped my belief system.  Thomas Jefferson has influenced my thoughts about political philosophy.  I am also inspired by his quote, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”  Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the only living human being who shapes my inner life. I have read quite a lot about her including her untold story of personal sacrifice for freedom and democracy in her country, Myanmar.

Q.  Who in Cambodia are your role models?

SV. I have been fortunate to have worked closely in a private group with three people who inspire me the most: Mr. Ok Serei Sopheak, an independent governance analyst; Mr. Heng Dyna, new President of the CEA; and Mr. Chan Sophal, former President of CEA. I have worked closely with with them and several other friends in the Cambodian Professionals (CAMPRO) network. I have been truly inspired by their hard work and their caring heart to help contribute to make Cambodia better.

I am also inspired by other people who have been working so hard to realize the vision for Cambodia.  In 2015, I was fortunate to have met my academic supervisor, Professor Din Merican from Malaysia at the Techo Sen School who urged me to pursue a Masters Degree and seek academic excellence as a worthy and enriching undertaking.

Q.  It has been more than 2 decades since Cambodia signed the Paris Peace Accords.  In terms of democracy, in your opinion, what has improved since then?

SV.  In my opinion, Cambodia has made much progress in the last 20 years. There are signs of improvement in the democratic process. Yet, there is still much more that can be done for Cambodia to realize the vision. The country has gone through a number of elections since 1993. There have been so many flaws in those elections. I am confident that these flaws are being addressed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his colleagues

I participated as an election observer in the 2008 National Assembly elections in Pailin. Voter intimidation and other irregularities were at large. I also participated in the 2013 National Assembly elections in Phnom Penh. I have observed some unprecedented events. There are reports of irregularities. So many people who turned out to vote could not find their names on the list. People were shouting and crying. Last time in 2008 when people couldn’t find their names on the register they just walked off. This time they stayed and shouted and cried. There is more momentum this time, you can feel it.

The recent election proved to be a positive sign from the perspective of being peaceful, mainly, but there were a lot of irregularities.  Post-electoral problems remain just like in the past elections. There have not yet been any proper mechanism to resolve the recurring post-electoral conflict.

Q.  Over 70% of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 35. How are young people helping to shape democracy in Cambodia today and what key role can they play in the future?

SV.  In the past, Cambodian youth were seen as not active, not attentive and not interested in the political process. However, there have been unprecedented events where youth are now seen as a catalyst for democratic transformation.  I was truly impressed by how engaged young people were in the last election. Before, they were mainly interested in entertainment and hobbies and doing fun things. This time, when the opposition leader returned to Cambodia and competed in the elections, so many young people turned out on the streets and were armed with smart phones using social media, wearing campaign T-shirts and caps and waving posters. This phenomenon of youth engagement in the political process also happened to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) when their youth supporters came out and started their campaign trails on the streets.

Despite some serious confrontations between the youth groups of both political parties, the election campaigns were  peaceful. It is my strong hope that the youth will continue to play an important role to engage more in the civic participation of our country.

I learned a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi’s father who said to a soldier “You may not think about politics, but politics think about you.” I want to see Cambodian youth engage more in the social and political processes.

Q.  Where would you like to see Cambodia’s democracy in 10 years? 

SV.  In the next ten years, I would like to see Cambodia rising not only in terms of economic growth but also social development. I want to see the Cambodian people to make  informed choices on their future leaders. I wish to see Cambodian people have access to all kinds of information to make decisions in their daily life. I want more reforms in democratic development and see more women leaders.

Q.  You earlier mentioned about CAMPRO. Can you tell more about the network and what you contribute in the network?

SV.  CAMPRO is an informal network privately joined by more than 400 members of Cambodian professionals working in various institutions, including academia, government, NGOs, development partners, private enterprises, and media. CAMPRO has three main activities: (i) share information, views and knowledge; (ii) discuss issues; and (iii) network Cambodian professionals. Through this informal exchange of information, CAMPRO members will better understand and learn how to improve their jobs, and therefore increase their private and social contributions. Members debate on political, economic and social issues privately through an online forum.

Q.  You earlier mentioned about CAMPRO. Can you tell more about the network ?

A.  CAMPRO is an informal network privately joined by more than 400 members of Cambodian professionals working in various institutions, including academia, government, NGOs, development partners, private enterprises, and media. CAMPRO has three main activities: (i) share information, views and knowledge; (ii) discuss issues; and (iii) network Cambodian professionals.

Through this informal exchange of information, CAMPRO members will better understand and learn how to improve their jobs, and therefore increase their private and social contributions. Members debate on political, economic and social issues privately through an online forum.

CamproPost is a website that publishes articles, essays, discussions, opinions, and documents that are related to Cambodia. It is the brainchild of CAMPRO. Information that is published on CamproPost come from articles, essays, discussions, individual opinions and other materials that are sourced from both CAMPRO and non-CAMPRO members.

To learn more about CamproPost, please visit: http://campropost.org

 

Q.  You’ve been able to build a successful career at a young age. What advice would you have for young people in Cambodia who may be struggling but want to follow a similar career path?

A.  I have had more failures than successes and I am inspired by Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” I wish to share some messages to young people about career path as well as about journey to life.

First, start small and dream big and never lose hope. As Martin Luther King said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  Embrace patience as a virtue. Enjoying the journey to your dreams is more important than realizing your dreams.

Second, we live as a community, therefore communication and networking is crucial. So, communicate with others and build networks. Third, be inspired and inspire others. Learn from inspiring people to help shape your life and inspire others with your realized dreams. Fourth, live a life of meaning and purpose by giving a hand to others. Be compassionate to yourself, your family and extend your compassion to others. My last words are: Be altruistic: give more to others and to your country without expecting any return.

The Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Gone So Wrong


July 25, 2016

The Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Gone So Wrong. Why?

It’s been nearly two and a half years since a 777 disappeared over the Indian Ocean. Investigators assured us they’d find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. How were they so wrong?

by  Jeff Wise

It wasn’t supposed to end like to this. Earlier today, ministers from the three nations responsible for finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370—Australia, China, and Malaysia—announced that they would stop looking for the lost jet once the current 46,000-square-mile search zone is completed this fall. The decision was essentially an acknowledgement that they’d come up empty-handed in their quest to find the plane that disappeared from the face of the Earth in March 2014 with 239 people on board. This after two years of official assurances that success was right around the corner.


Why had ty been so confident in the first place? How could they have been wrong?

Why had they been so confident in the first place? How could they have been wrong? And if the plane isn’t where it was supposed to be, where else could it have gone? We’ve gone through two years of clues and conspiracy theories and false starts. But to understand how we’ve come to this point, it’s necessary to review the clues that search officials possessed, and how they interpreted them.

Calculating the Direction of Flight

There were two reasons why investigators felt certain the plane had flown toward a specific area of the southern Indian Ocean. The first was publicly acknowledged, the second kept secret.

The first reason had to do with signals exchanged between the plane and an Inmarsat satellite. On the night of March 8, 2014, 40 minutes after takeoff, MH370 suddenly went electronically dark over the South China Sea. Every form of communication it had with the outside world was turned off. The plane then pulled a 180, flew back over peninsular Malaysia, headed up the Malacca Strait, and disappeared from radar.

Then, surprisingly, three minutes later, it began communicating again. A piece of equipment in the back of the plane called the Satellite Data Unit (SDU) sent a log-on request to an Inmarsat satellite perched in a geosynchronous orbit high above the Indian Ocean. For the next six hours, the SDU stayed in contact, automatically sending intermittent pings that were automatically recorded by Inmarsat computers on the ground.

This handout Satellite image made available by the AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) shows a map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 24, 2014.

This handout Satellite image made available by the AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) shows a map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 24, 2014. Getty Images / Australian Maritime Safety Authority

 

The Class Politics of Decluttering


July 18, 2016

The Class Politics of Decluttering

Missoula, Mont. — SUDDENLY, decluttering is everywhere. It may have started with Marie Kondo and her mega-best seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” but it has exploded into a mass movement, anchored in websites, seminars and — ironically — a small library’s worth of books about how to get rid of stuff.

To its advocates, decluttering, or “minimalism,” is about more than just maximizing space: “By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth and contribution,” say Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, hosts of “The Minimalists” podcast.

But minimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice, and it’s telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class. For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option.

I understand why people with a lot of stuff feel burdened by it, and the contrasting appeal of having less of it. I cleaned houses to put myself through college as a single mother. I spent my days in expensive homes, full of large televisions and stereo systems, fully furnished rooms that collected dust. I was alone and isolated most days, and at night, I concentrated on the three or four online classes I took through a local community college. My daughter and I had about $50 in spending money a month.

Over the course of a year, and after seeing how the other half lived, I started to recognize that by having less, by trying to find joy in what little things life brings — like a 25-cent puzzle we found at a garage sale — we were living a somewhat happier life. Or, I assumed we were, after noticing while cleaning bathrooms that my clients tended to be on several medications for depression, pain and sleeplessness.In some ways, I was practicing what minimalism preaches. But it didn’t make me happy. And I imagine for millions of other working-class Americans who struggle to get by, minimalism’s principles don’t sit well either. Buddhist belief says happiness is the freedom from want, and yet, what if your life is streamlined out of necessity, and not choice?

I had to downsize severely several years ago when my daughter and I moved into a 400-square-foot studio. I had no usable wall space, and although my boss gave me temporary storage space in her garage over the summer, I had to sort through and get rid of carloads of clothes, my childhood toys, school papers, books, movies and artwork. I couldn’t afford to store all of these items, which had value to me only as a record of my history — including mementos from my parents.

 My stuff wasn’t just stuff, but a reminder that I had a foundation of support of people who had loved me growing up: a painting I’d done as a child that my mom had carefully framed and hung in our house, a set of antique Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my ferret once chewed an eye out of when I was 15, artwork my mom had collected over the decade we lived in Alaska. Things I grew up with that brought me back to a time of living a carefree life.

I’ve grown to appreciate living in a small space over the last decade, even after having another child. I now keep a 667-square-foot apartment clean, and can’t imagine the responsibility of doing the same to two or three times the space. But it would be nice for my girls to have their own rooms, and a yard to run around in. It would be nice to have a real couch that isn’t a futon I’ve held on to for several years. I hunt for deals, and hurry to Walmart whenever there’s a sale.

And that’s the other class element lurking behind minimalism’s facade. In a new documentary about the movement, “bad” consumption is portrayed by masses of people swarming into big box stores on Black Friday, rushing over one another for the best deals. They are, we’re led to understand, slaves to material goods, whereas the people who stay away from mass consumption are independent thinkers, free to enjoy the higher planes of life.

But those people flocking to Walmart and other stores don’t necessarily see things that way. To go out and purchase furniture, or an entertainment set, or a television bigger than an average computer monitor — let alone decide that I can afford to get rid of such things — are all beyond my means. That those major sales bring the unattainable items to a level of affordability is what drives all of those people to line up and storm through doors on Black Friday.

Those aren’t wealthy people who have a house full of expensive items they don’t need. Those are people teetering on or even below the poverty level, desperate for comfort in their homes. To point to them as a reason to start an anti-consumerism movement is just another form of social shaming. Those aren’t the people who would benefit from a minimalist life. They can’t afford to do with less.

Stephanie Land is a writing fellow at the Center for Community Change. This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

On Prime Minister Theresa May


July 13, 2016

5 Things to Know About Theresa May, Britain’s Next Prime Minister

Here are five things you need to know about her.

She has been a long-serving Home Secretary

Ms. May has served longer in the difficult cabinet post of Home Secretary, overseeing the nation’s domestic security and immigration agencies, than any since the 19th century. She has held the post since 2010, 13 years after she was first elected to Parliament.

She is considered a moderate in the Conservative Party and has been compared to Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany; both are known for their pragmatism. As Home Secretary, Ms. May was criticized for failing to meet a Conservative pledge to sharply reduce the net number of immigrants to Britain.

She has promised to lead Britain out of the European Union

Though Ms. May supported Prime Minister David Cameron’s stance in favor of remaining in the European Union, she said little publicly during the referendum campaign, leading to some speculation that she privately favored leaving, known as Brexit. That ambiguity helped her to emerge as a compromise candidate who might promise to unify the party’s factions.

She has ruled out holding a second referendum, saying that the people have spoken and that “Brexit means Brexit.” Still, she is not in a hurry: She said she would not invoke the legal mechanism that begins the withdrawal process until later in the year.

She wants to give workers a seat on corporate boards

Ms. May has said that people want more than just a “Brexit P.M.,” and has pledged “a bold new positive vision for the future of our country, a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.” She has promised to address inequality, give workers greater representation on corporate boards and limit tax cuts.

She was introduced to her husband by Benazir Bhutto

Like Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, Ms. May was born into a middle-class family. She was educated at Oxford, where she belonged to the Conservative Association and the Oxford Union, a debating society known for producing future leaders.

At a Conservative Association dance in 1976, she was introduced to Philip May, her future husband, by Benazir Bhutto, a fellow student who would go on to become the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan.

She is an avid cookbook collector

To relax, Ms. May has said she enjoys cooking (she owns more than 100 cookbooks) and taking long walks in the countryside.She is known for her eclectic footwear, and often wears leopard-print shoes.

Remembering Sam Berns


July 12, 2016

Sam Berns –Let us remember this wonderful and inspirational young man

Though no longer with us, Sam  Berns lives on for being what he was. He was happy being himself.He accepted his limitations and lived his life to the fullest extent. So today, while taking a short break from my academic duties at The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations on UC campus, I decided to remember Sam’s philosophy for a  happy life. I choose to post his TED Speech.

Sam Bern sought happiness by accepting his fate and by getting on with his life doing the simple things.  Why choose to be sad when there is a much better option leading a life of purpose and fulfillment . After all, life is poetry in motion. Farewell Sam.–Din Merican

Andy Murray and Portugal are Champions


July 11, 2016

BREAKING NEWS

Andy Murray (at Wimbledon 2016) and Portugal (at Euro 2016 in Paris) are Champions

Andy Murray defeated Milos Raonic to win the 2016 Wimbledon title after a 6-4 7-6 7-6 victory on Centre Court.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  Andy Murray of Great Britain kisses the trophy following victory in the Men's Singles Final against Milos Raonic of Canada on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Andy Murray wins 2nd Wimbledon Title

Andy Murray ended 77 years of British angst when he won Wimbledon in 2013. It didn’t take the Scot anywhere near as long to collect a second title at tennis’ most beloved tournament.

Murray cruised past big-serving Milos Raonic 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-2) in Southwest London on Sunday to register a third grand slam title overall and first since downing Novak Djokovic at the All England Club three years ago.

“I feel happier this time,” Murray told reporters. “I feel, yeah, more content this time. I feel like this was sort of more for myself more than anything, and my team as well. We’ve all worked really hard to help get me in this position.Last time it was just pure relief, and I didn’t really enjoy the moment as much, whereas I’m going to make sure I enjoy this one more than the others.”–by Ravi Ubha, CNN

Portugal sinks France to take Euro 2016 crown at Stade de France, Paris

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated with teammate Eder, the goalscorer, after Portugal defeated France 1-0 to win Euro 2016.

Portugal gatecrashed France’s Euro 2016 party to win the European Championship for the first time in its history — and all this without their leading star Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid forward had been forced out of the game with a knee injury in the first half, but Portugal regrouped and thanks to some heroic goalkeeping from Rui Patricio took the game into extra time before Eder struck with 11 minutes to go. Portugal’s 1-0 win was all the more remarkable given in their previous 10 meetings, France had won all of them.

Ronaldo was guiding his team from the touchline during extra-time.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo kisses the trophy as he poses on the pitch after Portugal won the Euro 2016 final football match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on July 10, 2016. / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG        (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
With Ronaldo out of the picture, Portugal needed another hero and that turned out to be Patricio who throughout the game was consistently on hand to thwart France, notably in saving a couple of fierce shots from Moussa Sissoko, who had an outstanding game. Central defenders Pepe — named man of the match — and Jose Ponte were also key to Portugal’s defensive obdurateness.–by John Sinnott,CNN